(55) They Say It Will Wear Off

HPF_0019_updatedThere you are. It has been a while since your partner, your child or your loved one has died. You think that all your emotions are over and your mourning is processed. Then, unexpectedly, you have those moments that you have to think back to him or her again. There is nothing wrong with that. He or she was important in your life and that will always remain so.

You meet people who say that they have an understanding of grief and bereavement. People who say they have empathy with what you feel. Those same people are stunned when they notice that you still have strong emotions when you think about your loved one.

You meet people who absolutely do not want to talk about what bothers them. People who say there is nothing wrong with them, but where everyone can see and hear at their voice that they push away emotions, or hide these, or are ashamed off these, or even deny these for themselves. People who do not understand, and may find it even scary, that you (dare to) show your emotions.

You meet people who are willing to help and guide you with the processing of your greave. How well they mean it, and how well they may have been educated in this profession, for you at that moment it seems as if these people follow a kind off “standard” approach. In itself, nothing is wrong with that, but for you it feels like they are not really listening to you.

From the above you might think that I am negative towards people who want help you and guide you with your bereavement. On the contrary. This group of people, and in particular when they have lost a partner, a child or a loved one themselves, understand perfectly what you are experiencing and have experienced. They are in an excellent position to help and guide you. However, why do not most of us make use of their services?

I think I understand this at last. In the following brief outline, I will try to explain this. In doing so, I realize that this outline is just one of the possibilities which can be different for every human being and even for each event. Every human being is unique as a person, from his upbringing, from his cultural background, from his training, the environment in which he lives and so on.

Now my outline of one of the possibilities.

In the beginning, just when your partner, your child or a loved one has died, you have many things to arrange and to think about. Everything focusses mainly on saying goodbye to the deceased. Not only that, you also get a lot of attention from family, friends, your environment and your colleagues. At that point, you have not realized yet that you will never see, speak, hug or embrace your loved one anymore.

Later on, you might be handling the finances and cleaning up the belongings of the deceased. Activities that require your attention and that repeatedly will force you to think back to your loved one. All moments where your emotions run high. These are also the moments where you not really are waiting for someone who could help you or guide you in processing your mourning; let alone that you even may think about it.

Later on, when you get back to work for the first time, or go to (family) meetings, or just go shopping, people sympathize with you and you get a lot of attention. However, it could also be possible that people avoid you because they do not know what say to you. Maybe it is because people are afraid of emotions that may occur, not only yours but also theirs. As if, people are ashamed to show emotions.

In spite of all your sadness, the world does not stand still. For everyone except you, it is business as usual. For them the deceased is further away and hardly, if not at all, affects their lives. Occasionally they dwell too on missing your deceased loved one. Usually that does not take a long time though, and their grief begins to recede. They look from their point of view when they meet you later. They do not give it a moment’s thought that you still may have strong emotions about the loved one you lost. It will never be the same as it used to be because that person, which took such an important place in your life, is not there anymore. It will therefore also take more time for you to continue your live in a for you acceptable way without that loved one.

The first year after the death of your loved one, is usually the hardest. The first time during your and your loved one’s birthdays. The first time on vacation, maybe alone or with a friend. The first time during the holidays. The first time to a party. These are moments when you miss your loved one the most. During that first year, you discover that you need to move on with your live, and maybe you even realize that you can do so all by yourself. You may miss the other badly, but it is not a necessary condition for you to move on. You resume your life, and why would you need help in that case in processing your grief.

It may be the case at some point in time,  that you get a feeling of being more often sick than you used to be. Moreover, when you feel sick you have vague or undefinable complaints. You may visit your family doctor and you may even get some remedies. However, those vague complaints could also be signs that you are quite busy with processing your grief. Even then, you take it for granted that you may require support and guidance for processing your grief. It just does not register with you.

The time comes when people around you start thinking that you should have processed your grief by now and that it is done and dusted. I think that is a cliché. Yes, it might be the case that you think less often about your loved ones, however when you do so you see everything in your mind so clearly as if it is the day again when you lost your loved one. People around you may start to suggest that it would be a good idea to seek help to process your grief. You hear what they say, but still you ask no help. You can do it yourself, you think.

Maybe you hesitate to seek help because you are unfamiliar with asking for support or guidance, or you do not know who to approach. Maybe you do not want to admit to yourself that you need support or guidance, or you are afraid to be stigmatized. Maybe you feel embarrassed. Moreover, why would you ask for support or guidance just now? You got quite a way on your own.

One thing I know for sure, mourning and bereavement can last a long time. It can last as long as you live, until your death. Do not hold this against me, I wish everybody a long life though. Nevertheless, the longer it takes the more difficult you find it to seek support or guidance simply because the world around you is not aware anymore that your request is about processing your grief.

The lesson I have learned is that grief does not go away in reality. Yes, the rough parts will get smoother, you can deal with it, and sometimes you cannot. It really does not matter. Life made you the person who you are today and you do not have to be ashamed of that. When you want to talk about the loss of your loved one, you can always do so with your real friends. That is OK. What I also realize is that the deeper your grief the more you have loved your loved one. That is in my point of view, the best and most beautiful compliment you can give.

They say that grief will pass off, but that is not the case. Some people think that the second year is more difficult than the first. Imagine, my wife died of a broken heart 10 years after the death of our daughter. The Flemish psychologist Manu Keirse says it with fine words. Mourning is like a shadow that follows you all your life. Sometimes the shadow is large, and sometimes it is smaller. And, sometimes you think for a moment the shadow is not there, but it is still waiting for you around the next corner and it catches you again… unaware.

I have learned that writing does help a lot.. Write not so much about your grief, but about the good memories you have of your loved one, or write about the new things and more importantly about the beautiful things you have learned and are doing today because you have to walk on alone. I can recommend it to all of you.

If you want to communicate about your experiences, calling may not be a real option since we may live many time zones apart, but yes, if you want to call that is OK. However, you can always email or write me. I will treat our communication as private and confidential.

Author: Hans Fransen

Founder of the Mourn & Grief Foundation

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